Beta Readers: Who, What, When, Why, and How

Since I’m seeking to grow my community of beta readers, I thought it would be good to explain the role of a beta reader. Beta readers receive advance copies of an author’s manuscript before it is published and sometimes get other perks. In exchange, the beta readers read the manuscript and provide services that the author finds valuable.

Authors can involve beta readers at various stages of the writing process, and expectations vary depending on whether readers are receiving an early draft of a manuscript or one that has been through multiple rounds of professional editing and is nearly ready for publication.

I chose to enlist beta readers early in the process. I sent out my initial request for beta readers when I was starting to edit the first draft of my manuscript, providing them with an annotated outline that listed the topics covered in each chapter. I then sent a few chapters at a time once I had completed a self-edit. My idea was not to overwhelm my readers with too many pages at once, but instead to spread out the process. The final two chapters will go out in early October.

Because I’m sending a self-edited draft to my beta readers, I want feedback on the overall structure of the book and the flow of each chapter. I’ve been a professional writer and editor for nearly 20 years, but this is my first book. I’m great at catching mistakes and inconsistencies in other people’s writing, including published books, but I recognize that I need outside eyes to see the disconnects in my work.

My beta reader community consists of:

  • The people I interviewed during my research. Although I welcome their comments on any chapter, I especially request that they read their interview to make sure they agree with what I’m going to publish.

  • Subscribers to my materials blog who responded to my email request.

  • Individuals that I met at conferences or networking events who signed up.

  •  Individuals who signed up in response to one of my social media posts.

Members of my beta reader community receive:

  • Emails with links to download PDFs of each part of the manuscript as it becomes available

  • Archive with links to parts sent out before you joined (if applicable)

  • An eBook version of the finished manuscript shortly before publication

  • Acknowledgment in the book if you provide feedback (merely joining the beta reader community isn’t enough, sorry, except for the people I interviewed)

  • Updates on the publication process as it unfolds

Have I piqued your interest? You are an ideal candidate to join my beta reader community if you:

  • Enjoy reading nonfiction

  • Want the opportunity to shape a book and make it more valuable to readers like you

  • Want to learn about how materials are made and how to reduce the environmental impact

  • Have time during October 2018 to read my manuscript and provide feedback

When I say I am looking for big-picture feedback, I am seeking suggestions that you believe will:

  • Improve the overall structure, such as changing the order of the chapters or moving sections within a chapter or to a different chapter. I’ve been doing this type of editing already but want to hear my readers’ opinions.

  • Improve the flow from paragraph to paragraph. Let me know if the ideas jump around or don’t lead logically from one paragraph or section to the next.

  • Clarify anything that seems confusing. If you don’t understand it, I need to explain it better.

  • Add relevant content to the manuscript. I’ve done plenty of research, but that doesn’t mean I know everything that’s out there. Feel free to share a link to an article or a website that you believe I should review.

  • Tighten up the manuscript by removing irrelevant or incomplete sections. My files include an 8000-word document called “sections removed from manuscript,” but I’m open to removing more. Alternatively, if you feel something is missing, it might be in one of my removed sections.

Generic feedback saying a chapter is good doesn’t help me, but if there’s something you find especially valuable or compelling, feel free to point it out. I will probably ask you to write a review when the book comes out, and specific positive feedback provides content for those reviews. I keep track of all feedback and can send your comments back to you.

If you run out of time during October to read the entire manuscript, I will still appreciate feedback on however many chapters you do read. I may also be able to incorporate feedback I receive later, but I will prioritize input I receive before the end of October. Once I move onto line editing, where I hire a professional to evaluate each paragraph and sentence, I don’t want to make major structural changes.

While I am not looking for copy editing or proofreading at this stage, I know that some of you won’t be able to resist pointing out typos or suggesting a change of wording. I get it. I do the same thing when I read. You may inform me of any errors, but rest assured that several more people will review the manuscript before I publish it.

If you are already a member of my beta reader community, thank you for your support. I hope you are finding the journey worthwhile. If you haven’t yet joined and want to participate, go to the signup page. If you are curious, please send me any questions you have via email or the contact form on my website.